By AMY ZUBEK

azubek@tnonline.com

Over the last four years I've had the opportunity and pleasure to cover the Carbon County Senior Games.

During each year's two-week Olympic style event, I've watched friendships form, team members remembering participants who passed away, and hundreds of area seniors put their heart and soul into all the events in the hopes of securing a win for their team.

Each and every senior participant has touched my life in some way.

My first experience of the games was in 2007, just one year after I graduated from college. During that first year, I had the pleasure of meeting Wanda and Walt McNichol of the Jim Thorpe team. They were gracious enough to let me interview them for my preview article about the upcoming games.

Since then, the McNichols have continually made me feel like part of the team every time I see them at the games. That feeling of connecting with them, as well as with so many others, has made me realize how special these games are to the people who take part in it, as well as helping to make me grow as a person.

Over these last few years, I have had countless experiences with participants like the one I mentioned with the McNichols. I've heard stories about love and loss, family and friends, and triumphs and failures.

Most of these stories stay with me each year as I see these individuals again and I am grateful for the chance to have gotten to know so many interesting athletes who are veterans, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, widows and widowers; and were at one time pilots, construction workers, political figures, seamstresses, homemakers and more.

These Carbon County residents are the gatekeepers to this area's rich past and the key to the current generation's future. They have beaten all odds and have pushed through the pains of growing old. They have successfully stayed young at heart and, because of that, keep young in mind, body and soul.

These men and women are role models for individuals like myself because they have not let growing up get in the way of enjoying life.

I am truly honored that each year many of these participants let me into their lives for eight days as they compete for the gold.

Thank you for making me feel welcome.

The Carbon County Senior Games is held annually during the first two weeks of May at various locations throughout the county. Next year will mark its 23rd anniversary.

Since its inception in 1988, when local resident Victor Pituch who is now 81 decided that he wanted to organize an event for the seniors of the county, the games have grown significantly, hosting over 200 participants this year.

Each year, Pituch, who is still the director of the games, as well as coordinators Anne Horrigan and Cindy Bizarre, and Cheri Mae Santore, director of the Area Agency on Aging, urge residents age 60 and older to come out and see what the games are all about.

I also would love to see the number of participants grow considerably so I am issuing a challenge to all TIMES NEWS readers age 60 and older.

I challenge you to sign up next year and help your team battle its way into the winner's circle. The benefits you will get from the games, and the friendships you will make far outweigh any excuse that you can come up with for not joining.

For more information on the games, visit one of the five participating senior centers Panther Valley, Jim Thorpe/Penn-Kidder, Palmerton, Weatherly, or Lehighton or call the Area Agency on Aging at (610) 824-7830.